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Maladaptive Behaviors Associated With Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia

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Updated June 01, 2014

Maladaptive behaviors refer to types of behaviors that inhibit a person’s ability to adjust to particular situations. Maladaptive behaviors are never good because they prevent people from adapting to the demands of life. Often used to reduce anxiety, maladaptive behaviors result in dysfunctional and non-productive outcomes. If you experience frequent panic (anxiety) attacks and have been diagnosed with panic disorder or another anxiety disorder, you may have inadvertently developed maladaptive patterns of behavior to cope with your situation.

Some common maladaptive behaviors are discussed below. They are classified here as “dysfunctional” because they tend to provide only short-term relief from anxiety. They are non-productive in alleviating the actual problem in the long run and may, in fact, serve as reinforcers of the underlying problem.

Avoidance

For many people, the symptoms of panic disorder often trigger an array of avoidant behaviors. This can result in agoraphobia, a common complication of PD. Agoraphobia can take a little time to develop, or it can come on rather quickly. Some sufferers believe their agoraphobic symptoms began after their first panic attack. Once agoraphobia takes root, avoidance behaviors often multiply quickly.

Substance Abuse

People with anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and agoraphobia, sometimes use alcohol or other substances as a means of coping with fear and anxiety. Some studies show that people with anxiety disorders are up to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder than those without an anxiety disorder. Abusing alcohol or other drugs to control stress and anxiety is classified as a maladaptive behavior because it provides only temporary relief from anxiety and actually may create more long-term problems. Substance abuse does not fix the underlying problem and long-term alcohol or drug abuse can lead to tolerance, dependence, and for some, addiction.

Withdrawing

Many challenges in life require ongoing action –- both behaviorally and mentally. Sometimes we struggle and succeed. Sometimes we struggle and fail. When the latter occurs, we can try again, or we can withdraw from the conflict with a resigned acceptance of our situation. When it comes to panic disorder or other anxiety disorders, withdrawing is incompatible with recovery. It is a maladaptive behavior because it means we submit to the illness and become unable to meet the demands of life. In essence, withdrawing in this sense is like giving up. For many people, the recovery process from anxiety disorders is slow and filled with setbacks. Recovery is accomplished with diligence and a strong resolve not to accept the control that panic attacks and other anxiety-related symptoms have over our lives.

Converting Anxiety to Anger

It’s not unusual for people who have panic disorder, agoraphobia or another anxiety disorder to experience frustration because of their condition. Sometimes this frustration can develop into anger -- anger toward yourself, anger at your situation or anger toward others. This type of anger is rooted in anxiety.

Anger is a powerful feeling that is a normal part of the human experience. Everyone has felt angry at one time or another. Anger itself is not a bad thing. But, if you express your anger in unhealthy ways, it can become a problem. Plus, anger can intensify your anxiety and worsen your panic symptoms. Anger management programs can help you find more adaptive ways to deal with anxiety.

Sources:

Anxiety Disorders Association of America. 2007 “Anxiety Disorders and Alcohol Abuse.”

Brady MD PhD, Kathleen, Tolliver MD PhD, Bryan and Verdiun MD, Marcia. “Alcohol Use and Anxiety: Diagnostic and Management Issues” 2007 Am J Psychiatry 164:217-221.

Longo, Lance P., MD and Johnson, Brian, MD. “Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines--Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives.” American Academy of Family Physicians. 01 Apr 2000. 2121-2131.

Managing Anger – Self-Care Handbook. (2005). Deerfield, MA: Channing L. Bete Co.  

National Institute on Drug Abuse. 15 Sept 2008. “InfoFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction.” 05 Dec 2008.

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